“Worst Mother in the World” and Boyfriend Take Plea Deal For Torture Murder of 8 Year Old Son They Feared was “Gay”
Palmdale, California – The mother of an eight-year-old son she despised for being “gay,” and her live-in boyfriend have pled guilty to first degree murder and torture under special circumstances in exchange for avoiding the death penalty. Pearl Fernandez and her sometime lover, Isauro Aguirre, took life in prison without hope of parole, and agreed to waive any appeal to their sentence in the horrific case of young Gabriel Fernandez. Paramedics were called to the couple’s apartment on May 22, 2013 because Gabriel had stopped breathing. He died two days later. According to court testimony by Gabriel’s older sibling Ezequiel, an eye witness to the repeated beatings and torture inflicted on his younger brother, Pearl Fernandez had beaten her child into unconsciousness, and then fearful of discovery, ordered her older child to fabricate a story about an accident in the Palmdale apartment so the adults could escape prosecution for his murder. The paramedics found Gabriel naked, with cracked ribs, burns, and BB shot in his lung and in his groin area. As quoted in the Antelope Valley Press, Paramedic James Cermak said, “It was like sensory overload. There was burn marks, there was BB holes, bruises in various stages of healing, [it] looked like his ankles were broken. It was like every inch of this boy had been abused.” Cermak added, “We noticed that he had bruising all over his body, he had strangulation marks around his neck, and looked like his teeth had been knocked out.” When Cermak asked Pearl Fernandez about the situation “she became very defensive,” he said, and blamed the unconscious boy for fighting with his brother and being “a dirty boy.” According to NBC Los Angeles, the couple were arrested the day following Gabriel’s discovery for capital murder and torture. Though they both entered a plea of not guilty, a Grand Jury indicted them both in August for one of the most horrendous cases of child abuse and homophobia in Southern California history.
Testimony earlier this year established that Pearl Fernandez and her then-boyfriend Isauro Aguirre locked the boy in a dark closet for hours at a time, stuffed socks in his mouth to prevent him from crying out, repeatedly beat him, psychologically harmed him, and on at least one occasion forced him to eat cat feces and his own vomit as punishment for playing with dolls and acting “gay.” They whipped Gabriel with the metal end of a leather belt for a period of at least eight months, hit him with a bat, knocked his teeth out with a club, and tortured the boy with pepper spray. Though Gabriel was being overseen by the Department of Children and Family Services, at least four social workers who missed or ignored the signs of repeated abuse were dismissed from service in the public uproar over the case. After a total of no fewer than seven reports of suspected child abuse from sources including Gabriel’s teacher, the social workers did not investigate the allegations thoroughly enough to remove the boy from what amounted to a torture chamber of horrors. A blue-ribbon panel formed in the fallout from the case issued a scorching report mandating changes in the way at risk children are overseen in Los Angeles County. Gabriel’s maternal grandmother has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the county and the DCFS.
While there is plenty of blame to go around in the horrific torture murder of the eight-year-old, the fact of the active savagery of a mother, deemed otherwise sane, against her own child for whatever reason prompted Gay Star News to dub Pearl Fernandez “The Worst Mother in the World.” According to the Antelope Valley Press, Los Angeles Sheriff’s Deputy Jonathan Beck testified in court that on the night of Gabriel’s discovery, Pearl expressed little or no concern for her child. When prosecutors asked Deputy Beck if she showed concern for anything, he said, “Her cats.” The depth of hatred for LGBTQ people shown by the punishment rained down on Gabriel by Aguirre and Fernandez is hard to fathom. For allegedly playing with dolls, they humiliated him by forcing him to wear girls’ clothing, ridiculed him in front of his siblings, and tortured him beyond belief. Apparently, these two adults believed that blaming an eight-year-old child for being “gay” somehow mitigated and justified what they did to him. It also betokens that his own mother would rather have a dead son than a gay one.
Now, according to an organization posting on Facebook as “Gabriel’s Justice,” Fernandez and Aguirre’s guilty plea and the life-without-parole sentence finally brings some sense of closure to this outrageous case. For the advocates for Gabriel, there was never a doubt that the couple would be found guilty of this heinous crime, for putting Gabriel through such hell for so many months of his young life. The group expressed relief that years of appeals could now be avoided. Now, the fear to which these people subjected an innocent child would now be visited on them with a vengeance. “The two would sit on death row for over 30 years utilizing appeal after appeal with no closure for anyone,” the Gabriel’s Justice web master said in a post on Facebook. “Both will be placed in general population, there’s no safety house for them. This would not be true on Death Row.” With a sense of some vindication, the post is summed up with these words: “Justice has been served.”
Sacramento, California – The Golden State has outlawed the notorious “gay panic defense” as an excuse for violence against the sexual minority. Defendants in California can no longer claim their deeds of physical harm against gay and transgender victims were triggered by alarm at a person’s sexual orientation or gender expression. Governor Jerry Brown signed the legislation into law on September 27.
As Gay Star News reports, Rick Zbur, Equality California Executive Director, said in a statement to the press on Sunday, “The ‘panic defense’ is a homophobic and transphobic ploy that blames the victims of horrific acts of violence for the crimes committed against them.” Zbur went on to commend Governor Brown for signing the bill making this infamous legal dodge based on fear illegal: “[Such a ploy] has no place in California’s legal system, and we applaud Gov. Brown for signing this groundbreaking, first-in-the-nation legislation.”
The law, according to California Legislative Information, entitled “AB-2501 Voluntary manslaughter,” now bans the excuse from use in California courts that “the victim made an unwanted non-forcible romantic or sexual advance towards the defendant” or “the defendant and victim dated or had a romantic or sexual relationship.”
Some defendants in horrendous cases of physical violence against transgender or gay/lesbian victims succeeded in playing upon the fears and latent biases of juries with the gay panic defense, and winning lesser sentences and penalties from the courts as a result. The most widely covered California case in which the gay panic defense was effective in reducing a sentence was the execution-style gunshot murder of teen ager Larry Fobes King of Oxnard by his teen age classmate, Brandon McInerney. In the 2011 trial, defense attorneys argued that the real offender was the murdered King, who allegedly flirted with McInerney, a youth who had been deeply influenced by Neo-Nazi ideologies and prejudices. The court reduced McInerney’s charges to second-degree murder and voluntary manslaughter after trying him as a juvenile, in contravention of California law that clearly mandated McInterney, though a teen, must be tried as an adult because of the heinous nature of the crime, and the premeditation exhibited in King’s execution in their morning computer classroom. King was, of course, unable to defend himself against the charges and allegations made by defense attorneys, since he was dead and buried. Because of a plea bargain deal, McInerney received a 21-year sentence instead of a longer, more appropriate term, solely because of the gay panic defense.
Reflecting on the King/McInerney case, SF Weekly carried an op-ed article arguing that “It’s a heinous defense tactic that banks on a judge or jury’s own homophobia, apportioning some blame onto victims in order to get a murder charge downgraded to manslaughter. Leaning on a ‘heat of passion’ line of thinking deliberately turns a trial into something out of a pulp novel. Gay panic benefits from anti-LGBT bias, and adds to it as well, by dredging up ancient stereotypes of gays as sexual predators who can’t be trusted not to curb their appetites.”
Now, such legal queer-baiting is out of bounds in California and has become a model for other states to emulate.
“I have to step up now, like [Juan] did,” Sergio said to KESQ. Juan Ceballos was a well-regarded, happy person who worked hard to help out his mother and four siblings. He had worked in the agricultural fields to pay personal bills and help support his family, but currently was working two jobs to make ends meet: at a gas station and a Pizza Hut. Upon hearing the news of Ramirez’s arrest, Sergio said, “If he is the one who killed [Juan], I hope they keep him off the street so that no other family will have to go through the pain we are.” When asked about how someone could kill another person because of his sexual orientation, Sergio said wiping away tears, “If that is the reason [Ramirez] did that to him, I don’t even know why.” Speaking with KMIR NBC News, Sergio said that his brother’s killer was “stupid” to do such a thing because of sexuality. “[Juan] was more like a father, not as a brother, he was head of the house, he was our support,” said Sergio. “He said he was looking for happiness in a world full of evil,” Sergio continued, “maybe he was right. The world is full of evil, and I don’t know why they ever did this to him. He was our guide. Everything we have now we owe to him. I’m going to continue with all of this, but now I’m going to have to do this without him,” Sergio concluded.
Juan’s mother, Maria Teresa Mendez, said, her son was “a happy person who tried to guide his siblings to do good in life. I expect justice for the person who did this.”
Fresno, California – Two gay men well-known in Fresno as drag artists say the arson attack on their vehicle was a hate crime solely because of their sexuality. Local law enforcement authorities are investigating the possibility that they are right. ABC Action News 30 reports that Brandon Jackson and his partner Chris Ruiz rushed to stop the fire that had been set to their SUV, but too late to save thousands of dollars of wigs and costumes they use in one of the most successful drag shows in Fresno County.
Ruiz told Fresno County Sheriff’s Deputies that as he ran out of the house to help douse the flames consuming their vehicle, a former lover of his partner’s mother confronted him with a torrent of anti-gay slurs. According to Ruiz, Chuck Bullock Jr. yelled at him, claiming to have set the blaze, “I’m lighting your f***ing car on fire f****t!” Jackson and Ruiz also say that Bullock, whose father was a Christian minister, demeaned them with a flood of Bible verses, condemning them for being abominations. The use of anti-LGBTQ slurs is a prime marker suggesting that the attack was bias motivated, and Deputies are investigating for a hate crime dimension.
After the attack, Bullock allegedly took responsibility for the crime in text messages sent to Jackson’s mother, his ex-lover. He used more anti-gay slurs in the texts and accentuated his profanity with the threat, “I’m going to burn you down!” Officers went to Bullock’s father’s home Tuesday looking for the suspect, but were unsuccessful.
ABC 30 videoed the wreckage of the totaled SUV: the melted interior, the charred remains of gowns and wigs, and even the imprints of Jackson’s hand on the hood where he vainly attempted to put the fire out with his bare hands. Jackson managed to put out the fire with a garden hose. “The smell was god-awful and then it just looked as if it was melting – waxworks — it just looked like it was melting,” he told ABC 30 reporters. “And this was because, simply because of my sexuality.” Thankfully, the loss of the vehicle, while costly, could have been far worse, and Jackson and Ruiz know it. Their SUV is a total loss, but they were the real target. They could have been immolated in their own home.
Washington, D.C. – The long-awaited Harvey Milk commemorative postage stamp is now a reality, according to Linn’s Stamp News. A black-and-white photo image of Harvey Milk will be the central feature of this non-denominated U.S. Postage “Forever” Stamp. The stamp design includes the colors of the Rainbow Flag in six differently colored squares stacked vertically in the upper left corner. First day of issue is planned to be May 22, 2014, Harvey Milk Day, to celebrate the San Francisco gay politician, activist, and city supervisor. Cities likely to be chosen as first issue sites are Washington, D.C. and San Francisco, California.
Milk, who is recognized throughout the world as a hero and martyr of the LGBTQ and human rights struggle, was a U.S. Navy veteran, and one of the earliest openly gay elected officials in the United States, winning a seat on the San Francisco Board of City Supervisors in 1977. Though gay rights was a major emphasis of his political career, Milk also championed affordable housing, city sanitation, expanded child care, and public transportation. He was shot to death in his City Hall office on November 27, 1978 by Dan White, his one-time colleague who blamed his actions on momentary insanity and disorientation from eating too many sugary desserts. White also shot and killed San Francisco Mayor George Moscone the same day. The appearance of this commemorative stamp marks the first time a gay hate crimes murder victim has been publicly honored in this way.
EDGE on the Net reports that The stamp, likely to be issued in a pane of 20, will be used to mail a one-ounce letter regardless of when the stamp is purchased or used and no matter how future prices fluctuate. The current value of the stamp is 49 cents.
According to SF Gate, the U.S. Postal Service selects only 20 persons per year to be honored with a commemorative stamp, out of the thousands nominated by people all over the globe, and vetted by a citizens’ advisory committee. Speaking to the San Francisco Chronicle in October 2013 at the announcement of the Postal Service’s decision to develop and issue the stamp, Milk’s nephew and co-founder of the Harvey Milk Foundation, Stuart Milk said, “We’re excited. We think this will represent my uncle’s message, which is hope and courage and authenticity, very well.”
San Diego, California – A gay man who was brutally beaten with a ball bat across the face in the Hillcrest Neighborhood of San Diego used to feel gay people were safe in San Diego. No more. Dwayne Wynn, walking along the sidewalk at midnight Monday was targeted for being gay by three men who pulled up behind him in a truck and ambushed him with a ball bat, crushing his eye socket and smashing his ribs. 10News.com interviewed a tearful Wynn in his home, still obviously shaken by his ordeal. Wynn told News10 that he heard an anti-gay slur shouted behind him, and then was struck full in the face with the bat. “The last thing I see is a baseball bat being swapped right across the face,” he said. “I was laying there,” said Wynn. “I was covered in blood and I could hear them literally high fiving each other as they’re walking to their truck.” It all happened so quickly that Wynn could not get an accurate description of the men who assaulted him or the vehicle they were driving. “I thought I was dead,” he said, trembling from emotion. “I’ve never been that scared in my entire life. I literally thought I was going to die. I thought they were going to kill me. They were beating me that bad.”
The spree nature of the attack in the heart of Hillcrest, the San Diego neighborhood noted for “tolerance and acceptance” sends a wake up call to the residents of the large, active LGBTQ community there, reminding them that diversity is not the same thing as equality. “They just didn’t stop and they thought it was a game,” Wynn said, according to EDGE. “They thought it was fun.”
Unfinished Lives author, Dr. Stephen V. Sprinkle, commented that major metropolitan LGBTQ communities have been lulled into a sense of complacency by recent news of marriage equality victories throughout the nation. “Cities like San Diego pride themselves in diversity and tolerance,” Sprinkle said, “but that doesn’t mean queer folk are safe anywhere they live. Just because you live in a bubble, you do not live in a culture that accepts and defends your right to exist and be secure from harm.” Sprinkle, an LGBTQ hate crimes expert, noted that a prominent gay bookstore in Hillcrest was contacted to host a book signing and discussion on anti-LGBTQ hate crimes for the upcoming Martin Luther King Weekend, but the store management declined since the issue did not seem pressing. “Now, with this gruesome crime in the heart of the ‘gayborhood,’ perhaps anti-gay hate crimes are a bit more real in San Diego,” Sprinkle observed. “We are thankful complacency has not cost anyone his or her life there,” he said.
The Hillcrest neighborhood, just north of famous Balboa Park, hosts the largest civic celebration in San Diego each year, the Pride Festival, drawing thousands. Dwayne Wynn used to feel safe and secure in his neighborhood. Now, he and many others do not, due to a group of homophobic men who are still at large, hunting down gay men.
Oakland, California – An 18-year-old teen who identifies as “non-binary” or “gender-neutral” was set on fire Monday evening as he slept soundly in the rear of an AC Transit bus. Luke “Sasha” Fleischman, a popular student at Berkeley’s Maybeck High School, suffered second and third degree burns on his legs when a 16-year-old assailant set a skirt Fleischman was wearing alight. Passengers on board the bus aided Fleischman in extinguishing the stubborn flames. The attacker, Richard Thomas, who was arrested Tuesday on the campus of Oakland High School, now admits that his feelings of homophobia led him to try and burn the sleeping teen alive.
NBC Bay Area News reports that anger at the attacker and compassion for Fleischman emerged quickly as news of the attack spread throughout the East Bay area. Fleischman, whose mother told the Bay Area Newsgroup that her child felt comfortable wearing female-identified clothing such as a skirt, has long understood himself to be gender neutral. “My son considers himself agender,” Debbie Fleischman said. “He likes to wear a skirt. It’s his statement. That’s how he feels comfortable dressing.” The teenager’s cousin, 25-year-old Tara Young, a graduate student at the University of California at Berkeley, said “I don’t care what he was wearing, You don’t light someone on fire.”
Rushed to the Burn Center at San Francisco’s St. Francis Memorial Hospital, Fleischman underwent surgery on his legs Wednesday. Donations have poured in to help defray the cost of his medical care, topping $20,000 in a matter of hours. Hospital officials confirmed that the teenager will need to undergo painful skin grafts and “several surgeries.”
Meanwhile, his attacker, 16-year-old Richard Thomas, who had been arrested and initially charged with assault with a deadly weapon and mayhem, is now being fully charged for each count as a bias-motivated hate crime after admitting his intense homophobic feelings motivated him to set his victim’s clothing on fire. KQED News reports that Alameda County law enforcement officials, who acknowledge the attack on Fleischman was motivated by anti-queer hatred, are charging Thomas as an adult. The Oakland Tribune interviewed lead Police Investigator in the case, Anwawm Jones, who confirmed, “During (the) suspect interview, the suspect stated he did it because he was homophobic.” Oakland District Attorney Nancy O’Malley told The Tribune that Thomas’s “violent and senseless criminal conduct resulted in severe and traumatic injuries to a young and entirely innocent victim,” and went on to say, “The intentional and callous nature of the crime is shocking and will not be tolerated in our community. Our thoughts remain with the victim and the victim’s family in wishing for a full recovery from the extensive burns suffered as a result of this crime.”
Felony aggravated assault carries a possible life sentence with a possibility of parole, the assault charge has a maximum penalty of eight years in prison, and each count of hate crime enhancement adds a year in prison, according to the Alameda District Attorney’s Office.
“Sasha” Fleischman represents an emerging group of youth who do not fit into the male/female binary, some of whom consider themselves gender-neutral, agender, or genderqueer. According to his parents, Sasha came out as agender two years ago, and became politically active in order to carve out a place in American consciousness for youth like himself. He gathered over 27,000 signatures on a petition with which he attempt to draw President Obama’s attention to the issue, as reported by the San Jose Mercury News.